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Britten, Davies & Korngold

Britten String Quartet No. 2 in C Op. 36
Maxwell Davies Goodison Quartet (Blake Dreaming - World premiere)
Korngold String Quartet No. 1 in A Op. 16

Doric String Quartet & Roderick Williams baritone

Wigmore Hall Friday 30 April 2010

This recital was given in the reverse order to that advertised as above, sensibly as it turned out, and I shall do likewise. Korngold's No 1 quartet is a strange, diffuse work upon which he worked during three years after completing his opera Die Tote Stadt (1920). The scoring is generally dense for string quartet, as if he were thinking orchestrally.

The Dorics played with determination and, where appropriate, vehemence but I failed to feel an overall coherence and was left unsatisfied and a little bewildered by this work, which was new to me. So were we by the latest of the "Goodison Quartets" commissioned by Nicholas and Judith Goodison, who stipulated wordless solo voice as an additional instrument within the textures of a string quartet.

Davies cheated a little, including a phrase of poetry by William Blake, though most of the music had the excellent Roderick Williams confined to ah-ah vocalise. It all seemed rather romanticised and soft-centred for Maxwell Davies and indeed was a little embarrassing to listen to, quite apart from being a waste of Roderick Williams' participation. Denying words to a singer is a little like asking string instrument players to eschew their bows...

The evening was saved by a powerful account of Britten's imperishable 2nd quartet, which has increasingly taken its place as one of the finest of all quartets of the period, one that bears ferquent hearing, so taut is its construction and imaginative writing for string quartet.

Peter Grahame Woolf